Michael Coveney: Mel and Steve host a WhatsOnStage Awards to remember
The 15th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards concert was held last night at the Prince of Wales Theatre
The great thing about the WhatsOnStage Awards concert - produced by Stuart Piper and directed by Russell Labey in the Prince of Wales last night - is its mixture of bona fide show-time, informality and good-natured rudeness. I'm not sure that anyone sat down and said, right, this is how we'll do it; it's just emerged over the years, probably in no small measure thanks to the first pairing of hosts Sheridan Smith and James Corden.
Mel Giedroyc and Steve Furst were perfect successors to them, Mel muttering a sideswipe at Mary Berry and the Great British Bake-Off and failing to recognise Josie Rourke of the Donmar Warehouse when she collected Mark Henderson's lighting prize ("She's never going to employ me now"), while Steve kvetched all night about not being nominated for his support performance in Made in Dagenham; eventually, Mel created a nomination and award (with wig) specially for him: the Best British Comb-Over, though perhaps if she'd thrown in a comb it could have been the Great British Rake-Off.
Some of the suits were as blue as the gags, notably those of Cameron Mackintosh - celebrating fifty years in show business with a nine-gong haul for Miss Saigon (that's two more than the previous record for Hairspray) - and David Tennant, who thanked his wife for helping with his hair extensions for Richard II and sternly reminded us that, in election year, it was important to remember that money spent on the arts was not a subsidy but an investment.
Coriolanus at the Donmar won three awards, and Tom Hiddleston, whom everyone loves - we don't care if he's posh - collecting the Best Play Revival award, said that Shakespeare's history wasn't very kind to people but he felt that WOS voters had been very kind to him. I think Kwang-Ho Hong said something similar, but he said it in Korean. He then segued into English saying he hoped to be back in Miss Saigon in mid-March and Mel butted in to say that we'd all be here till mid-March if he didn't put a sock in it and kindly leave the stage. Kwang-Ho's fellow Miss Saigon supporting actor winner, Rachelle Ann Go ("Sounds like a lovely shampoo", said Mel) was equally delightful, thanking all other Filipinos and her brother, who made her dress.
Mel then spotted a man in the front row of the stalls wearing a tiger suit - he said he loved Cats - and suggested that the suit might have a bit of a pong and perhaps she could bottle some of Rachelle Ann Go and pass him a sample. The fellow took this in a very good spirit, but wasn't left with much more of an option. Deep into the second half of the show, after a neat little Rodgers and Hammerstein medley featuring songs from State Fair, Oklahoma! and the television Cinderella (Lauren Samuels made a good case for "Impossible"), Mel spotted old Stripey again and asked "Is the smell quite bad now Mr Cats?"
The show zipped by in just over two-and-a-half hours, Mel and Steve thanking all the sponsors to a shuffle beat and the band of a dozen musos under Alex Parker's supervision coming up trumps for a zingy sequence from In the Heights, Dogfight and Sweeney Todd; these three shows, two from the Southwark Playhouse, the third from the brand new Twickenham Theatre, demonstrated how the WOS Awards reach parts other awards simply don't go near. Daniel Evans of Sheffield Theatres, accepting the Best Regional Production award for his Oliver! revival, thanked WhatsOnStage, too, for putting regional theatre on the front page of our site: "This means a good deal to us, and the theatre".
Some winners sent video messages: Miss Saigon choreographer Bob Avian from South Florida (though Steve thought he recognised the interior of the Premier Inn, Southport); Billie Piper, Best Actress in Great Britain, from her iPhone, with giggles; Mark Gatiss, Best Supporting Actor in Coriolanus, from a cosy-looking shack in Ireland - "Welcome to my world of logs"; and Kevin Spacey from, I think, outer spacey-land, introducing us to his foundation (the next WOS adopted charity) which fulfils his great friend and mentor Jack Lemmon's diktat that if you have the luck to do well in the business of show you have a duty to make sure you send the elevator back down.
Having won in so many categories, it was perhaps surprising that Miss Saigon rubbed salt in everyone else's wounds by also winning in the Best West End show section (surpassing Les Misérables, Matilda, Memphis and even Wicked). But, as Cameron Mackintosh gleefully remarked, taking the stage with composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, "the public knows best!". You felt he was particularly delighted Miss Saigon had done so well because, first time round, the Olivier Awards Best Musical prize went, he said, "bizarrely, to a sci-fi rock and roll compilation show" (that would be Bob Carlton's Return to the Forbidden Planet). Claude-Michel added that he was very proud of Miss Saigon – which features eighteen different nationalities in the current cast – because it is all about tolerance. And that probably matters more today than at any time in our recent history. So go, Miss Saigon!